Mac vs. Windows for newcomer usability

January 29, 2009

A colleague recently asked me if I recommended a Mac or a Windows-based PC for a coworker. He asked at an interesting time. With all the speculation of what the loss of Apple’s Steve Jobs might bring, and the advanced hype about Windows 7’s premiere, it got me thinking: “Which is easier to use these days?” Further, which is easier to use for a newcomer? And has that switched back and forth over the years?

While I’ve not laid my hands on Windows 7 yet, I can tell you from what I read, I don’t expect the world to get easier for newcomers. But I do hope things turn out much like they did after the introduction of Vista — more complex, but core concepts unchanged. Vista was an evolutionary layer onto the older Windows concepts, but at least the core concepts didn’t change. And while the Mac OS concepts haven’t changed since the introduction of OS X, my opinion of which is more usable has since deciding to write the book.

When I started writing The Ultimate PC Primer, I genuinely believed I could craft a book to cover the basic computing concepts of all versions of Windows from 95 on, Mac OS X, and much of the Linux-based window manger environments. After all, a PC is pretty much a PC at some level. So I tried hard to focus on the similarities between Apple and Microsoft’s products, but there came a point I realized I had to chose one over the other. But which to pick? The crucial question was: which would more newcomers be learning to compute on? The answer surprised me. Here’s why… Read the rest of this entry »

Help! How many windows are open?!?

November 4, 2008

Every other month or so, I encounter a PC user that I just want to help… desperately. Generally, though, these users have so little computing foundation that I would need a week in a classroom (or in the case of The Ultimate PC Primer, fifteen chapters!) to clear up the misunderstandings and lay the correct foundation.

A while back I was part of a team conducting some “field tests” of new software. We were showing some concepts for improving workflow and soliciting input from the existing users. Part of our work was to see how each user currently used his/her system. During a chat with one of these users I observed an amazing sight: somewhere between 20 to 30 Web browser windows open at the same time, most of which were pages from the same site. Read the rest of this entry »